2014 NFL Draft: Tuesday Afternoon Prospect

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Today's draft spotlight shines squarely on the shoulders of a standout defensive back who was born and raised just around the corner.

The year was 1994. I'm sure some of you remember it well. George Foreman, at the ripe old age of 45, became the oldest heavy weight champion ever when he knocked out Michael Moore in the 10th round of their November 5th bout. Earlier that year, the Buffalo Bills infamously suffered their fourth straight Super Bowl loss when they were defeated by the Dallas Cowboys for the second consecutive time. Major League Baseball was hanging its head due to a labor strike that prematurely halted the season and cancelled the World Series for the first time since 1904. Tiger Woods became the youngest player to ever win the U.S. Amateur at the age of 18. Dale Earnhardt Sr won the Winston Cup Championship for the seventh and last time and Andre Agassi won the U.S. Open for the first time. Meanwhile, I was graduating high school.

But how many of you remember that the 1994 Duke football team went 8-4, finishing 3rd in the ACC(I suddenly sense the sound of crickets for some reason)? Over the course of next nineteen years, the red-headed step child of Duke athletics mostly floundered in futility. During that frustratingly painful span, there were four forgettable win-less seasons along with a pair of one and two win seasons.

The tide didn't begin to turn until they hired David Cutcliffe as their head coach in 2008. Unlike many of his predecessors, the Alabama native decided to place a premium on mining more athletes from the Carolinas and his determination led to some surprising wins on the recruiting trail. One such victory came in 2009 when he convinced a 150 pound cornerback from Charlotte to come to Durham. Five short years later, they were boasting an unprecedented 10-2 record and an ACC Coastal Division title.

This was no coincidence. The aforementioned skinny freshman eventually developed into a two time 1st Team All-ACC standout and was an integral part of the Blue Devil's resurrection from the grave of irrelevance. His name is Ross Cockrell and he might just be one of the more underrated defensive backs in the country. Let's quickly examine some of the strengths that will help him make the transition to the NFL and also some of the weaknesses which may stymie his progression early on.

Strengths

- High character

- Tremendous work ethic: one of the first to players show up at practice and one of the last to leave

- Two-time captain who led by example: organized 7pm film sessions three times a week with fellow defensive backs

- Highly experienced player who earned extensive playing time in all four of his playing years(red-shirt) and made vast improvements as each successive year passed

- Extremely versatile: played press man, off man and zone coverage; also spent time at safety

- Capable of playing well on the outside or in the slot, regardless of the defensive package(base or sub-packages)

- Solid wrap up tackler: often goes for the legs when taking down ball carriers

- Displays good instincts when breaking on the ball

- Read and reacts well when the ball is in the air

- Fights hard to take possession of incoming passes

- Possesses a smooth back pedal and fluidly flips his hips to mirror the movements of the receiver

- Turns and locates the ball extremely well when running down field with his back to the ball

Weaknesses

-Struggles to defeat blockers

- Lacks ideal strength: this was clearly evident at the combine as he only managed to put up 10 reps in the bench press portion of the workouts

- Also had the second shortest arms(29 7/8) out of all the defensive backs at the combine and still finished in the bottom five on the bench

- Not uncommon for him to get manhandled by blockers

- Tends to shy away from contact at times

- Below average speed(4.56 official forty time)

- Recovery speed is also sub-par and the film confirms as much when he is chasing receivers from behind

- Takes poor tackling angles too often

- Occasionally shows poor route recognition, especially in off man and zone coverage

- Inadequate speed when attempting corner blitzes

Conclusion

Cockrell certainly didn't do himself any favors at the combine when he put up pedestrian numbers on the bench and in the speed/agility drills. However, there is enough on film to realize that he has starting potential in the NFL. The first thing he needs to do is spend quality time in the weight room. It isn't pretty watching him get swallowed up by blockers and pushed around in pass coverage.

The Charlotte native projects well in press man because of his adept technical ability to use his hands to re-route and mirror the wide-out's movements. Cockrell will also earn some playing time in off man coverage because he has good instincts and timing to break up passes. He won't be an immediate starter, but is talented enough to see some early action in nickel and dime packages in obvious passing situations. Ultimately, the former Blue Devil has the potential to become a #2 corner because of his high football IQ and lunch pail mentality.

Despite his more than adequate height(6-Foot), Cockrell may drop on quite a few draft boards because he lacks the length and athleticism that today's decision makers and coaches value. I also believe that he will fall through the cracks a bit simply based on the fact that there is an abundance of legitimate secondary talent in this year's draft. With that being said, he could be targeted by the Panthers late in the 5th round and that is precisely where I have him being selected in my latest mock draft at the bottom of the page.

What about you CSR? What do you think about today's Tuesday Afternoon Prospect?

CB Ross Cockrell's Career Stats

Year Solo Assists Total TFL Sacks PBU FF INT TD
2010 37 23 60 0 0 7 0 3 0
2011 35 21 56 1 0 9 0 1 0
2012 47 24 71 4 1 13 1 5 1
2013 35 11 46 2 1 12 1 3 0



Carolina Panthers 2014 NFL Mock Draft 8.0

Round Prospect Height Weight College
1 WR Odell Beckham 5' 11" 198 LSU
2 OT Morgan Moses 6' 6" 314 Virginia
3 CB Keith McGill 6' 3" 211 Utah
4 OT James Hurst 6' 5" 296 UNC
5 CB Ross Cockrell 6' 0" 191 Duke
6 WR Jeff Janis 6' 3" 219 Saginaw Valley State
7 FS Jamea Thomas 5' 9" 192 Georgia Tech
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